Fallout: The Board Game — New California expansion first impressions

The Fallout franchise is on something of a bad run at the moment. Fallout ’76 is still doing an exceptional job of alienating loyal fans en-masse thanks to a botched release and a catalogue of faux-pas. In the board gaming world, Fallout (the board game) received a similarly frosty reception thanks to a number of its own issues. Fantasy Flight Games is not a company to rest on its laurels however and a few weeks ago I received a copy of Fallout: New California. This brand new expansion aims to correct some of the least popular features from the original game, whilst also introducing a raft of addition content.

Overview

New California is, like most expansions, more of the same. There are five new characters, two completely new scenarios and a literal ton (or about 2 kilograms actually) of additional cards comprising of items, events, locations, allies and so on. Perhaps most interesting is a subtle tweak to the overall win condition in the New California scenario, which shifts from being semi-cooperative to fully cooperative. This, for me, is by far the most welcome addition to the game and something that was much needed.

You’ll also find re-jigged scenario cards that replace those in the base game and allow full integration with the new map tiles. Whilst I had originally hoped that the revised scenario cards would allow the original game to revert to being fully cooperative, that, sadly, is not the case. There are new cards and things to discover within the new style of playing however, so if your copy of the original game has been played to the point of familiarity, then New California does provide a breath of fresh air.

Components

Realistically, all that New California is, is just a pile of new components — some of which are more meaningful than others. Beginning with the most visible addition, we have the new characters, each of which is pleasingly diverse and quite characterful, especially if you are aware of the Fallout world and its associated fiction. There’s a Mr Handy robot with a penchant for junk, an Enclave Outcast in power armour and a Desert Ranger. More interestingly though (for me at least) were the last two characters — a Caravan Guard who acts as a mobile shop for the other players and a Gunslinger who always works alone, but will never be outgunned in a one versus one scenario.

The other key components are probably the twelve new map tiles and the huge deck of cards that accompany them. There are tens and tens of new encounter cards and a large pile of new items (both starting and for purchase) including a few Fallout video game favourites such as the Harpoon Gun. There are also a couple of new allies that will be familiar to fans of older Fallout games rather than those from the current generation, although whether or not you’ll encounter them from one game to a next shall remain a mystery! Finally, there’s a brief rules slip that explains any changes to the basic rules and then a handful of tokens that include a couple of new enemies and then what I would suggest is just a range of spare parts, used to fill up the sheets of card.

Expansion content

The two new scenarios are the titular New California and then another called Rise of the Master. I’ve played both just once (hence this being a first impressions piece only) and I enjoyed both to an extent. Rise of the Master is brand new, but for whatever reason FFG chose not to include the cooperative mode within it. Instead, it has an interesting story and a few new mechanisms that really show of the kind of “advanced” content that I expect from an expansion of this sort.

What I will say about the Rise of the Master scenario in particular is that it felt very hard to me when played with three characters. One of the new systems means that enemies (at least as far as I can interpret it) can become more powerful than the highest previous level, which means that players need to use some form of enhancement to defeat them. The expansion comes with traps, weapons and other, similar ways of evening the score, but players will need to be more prepared than ever before. As with

The New California scenario is a bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately. The cooperative mode duly delivers and with some of the negative features aside, it is actually a much more fun way to play. The players must manage the power track towards a common outcome in order to save a struggling community, but what makes this scenario odd is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any scaling applied based on the number of player characters in play. This didn’t actually spoil the game for my group (which was also three players strong) but I would say that New California felt on the wrong side of too easy — with just one character, I could see it being too hard.

Conclusion

The brief for New California must have been a difficult one given that work on it had probably already begun before the reviews for the base game started to land earlier this year. That, perhaps, is what caused a slightly half-complete cooperative scenario to be included, when perhaps doubling down on content similar to Rise of the Master might have returned a better product for those who were already comfortable with the original Fallout board game.

Personally, I never considered the original Fallout to be as much of a failure as a lot of others did, but the experience was still soured for me because the game’s reputation preceded it and made it very tough to play. If New California does nothing else, it’s certainly rekindled interest in the revisiting the game from those I play with (who are all, like me, fans of Fallout games overall.)

Thinking back to what I did like about the original game (its ability to tell stories) then New California does deliver more of that in spades, with a few extras. The addition of variable cards and branching story-lines is definitely something I enjoyed in the brief time that I’ve spent with New California and I also liked the new characters, who feel a lot more unique than those in the base game. To summarise, my impression of New California so far is that it’s definitely an expansion primarily aimed at returning fans, even though players new to it might do well to start with the cooperative scenario for their first run out.

A copy of Fallout was provided for review purposes, and can be purchased from all good local games stores. For online purchases, please visit 365 Games

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